The value of not knowing the rules

I’m hearing the phrase “Lean In” a lot lately. You too? Ok good, it’s not just me.

Leaning in, in my world, essentially means “Yes, And”. Some call “Yes, And” an Improv rule. I call it a guideline, a mantra, a choice.

The choice is… to accept or to block. Leaning in means to accept what comes our way, to explore it, live in it, get messy with it… instead of push it away.

When faced with a new experience, task, or even a game we often want to know the rules. “Tell me what to do, and how to do it, help me feel certain”, say some of us. To hammer out the ambiguity is essentially what we are asking for.

Give me the boundaries, my role, task – let me feel comfortable by telling me the rules. The rules give me something to grab onto to keep me psychologically safe.

I see it in action all the time – in Graduate School class assignments, explaining a new Improv game, or big decisions.

When we are about to jump off the uncertainty cliff, we want to make sure our safety harness is attached.

Not knowing the rules produces a vulnerability unlike any other, especially when we don’t feel well-equipped for it. What if I don’t do this correctly? What if I fail?

The United States Army prepares its leaders for a life without certainty with a strategy called “Broadening”. Their development curriculum includes several stints of purposeful broadening – men and women are given assignments outside of their comfort zone to break the assembly line and predictability of the path. It’s more than a stretch assignment.

We won’t always know the rules. How comfortable are you when there might not be a right or wrong way to do something?

A broadening experience means truly leaning in – being able to sit with ambiguity and uncertainty. There may not always be rules in the places you need or want to go – but there is a purpose.

Forcing yourself out of your comfort zone prepares you for something else, allows you to make the rules, or teaches you that you may be comfortable with less rules than you thought.

Lean in.

How to find strength in vulnerability

There are moments when I’d like to write more personal blog posts – and I hold back.

A writer by education and briefly by trade, there were years when expressing myself on paper came naturally and enjoyably.

However, since I discovered Improvisation, I’ve felt more comfortable and expressive through verbal communication – through collaboration, connection and deep conversation.

Improvisation forced me out of my head.

Now, as part of this experiment in pursuing my passion I’m back “in my head” a lot more than I’d like. And, sometimes I fear that I’m putting too much of myself out there on this site.  There are days I worry that if I write too much about my passion, my purpose, or my journey I will be too vulnerable.  My head says, “stick to the facts, the ROI, the business side, Lindsey”. If I don’t, how will this be perceived – and will it lead where I hope it will?

Mostly I wonder if my vulnerability will be viewed as a weakness, or a strength.

Truthfully, I feel as vulnerable as ever.

But, leave it to famed vulnerability researcher Brene Brown to put it in perspective:

In her latest TED talk, she argues:

1. Vulnerability is not weakness.

2. Vulnerability is our most active measurement of courage. It is facing emotional risk, and uncertainty head-on.

3. Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.

 4. Adaptability to change is all about vulnerability.

I truly believe all of this – but the choice we have to make is to face vulnerability head on, as opposed to hiding from it. The choice becomes more difficult when it comes from a place of fear – for one, fearful of not knowing what the future holds.

Dr. Brown is an example of a courageous woman who truly leaned into her vulnerability. She put herself out there and preached what she believed in. And, look at her reach and results. It’s astounding.

The past few months have collectively been the most important of my life.  It has been an experiment on many levels – partially to see how far I could push myself into vulnerability.

My friends and family know I have been pushed to my limits – to the point where (as Dr. Brown describes) vulnerability almost became my shame.

In the quiet – when I am back in my head, I can choose shame and fear, or I can choose to continue to find strength in my vulnerability.

The lesson here (I believe there is a lesson in everything we do) is to learn to truly apply the lessons of Improv to the times when life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Can I “yes, and” life and the “offers” around me when it’s much easier to do the opposite – at a point where I am most vulnerable, most open to criticism and rejection.

There is a reason for this test – and if I fully embrace it and own it, it will allow me to be a stronger trainer, facilitator, and person.  I believe it already has.

I can choose to lean into the vulnerability and rely on the tools I have been taught to navigate the unknown.  I choose to embrace authenticity, honestly, openness – and to see my vulnerability as one of my greatest strengths.  We all have this choice.